Caity is joining the ranks of the world's teenagers today. Turning 13 opens a brand new door for her on her unique path to growing up. She's had to take a much different road than most as she continues her cancer struggle. I hope dearly that her latest rounds of chemotherapy will rid her body of the cancer that she has been facing since age 7. At that time she was officially diagnosed with Metastic Solid Pseudopapillary Pancreatic Cancer. She underwent abdominal surgery to remove the cancerous tumor and then had scans every 4 months to make sure it hadn't come back. This went on for 3 years; 3 years of wondering and anticipating that next scan and then breathing a sigh of relief when they showed nothing.
Caity's life was to change dramatically when on one of those dreaded scans they found that the cancer had come back with a vengeance. It was everywhere in her abdomen, from her stomach lining to her spleen and liver. After a nine hour surgery to remove all the cancer that they could find they just had to wait, knowing that it would eventually come back again. It did, a year later. This time, they had to take most of her pancreas, causing her to become diabetic. Caity also lost her spleen causing her to become more prone to infections. Throughout this arduous battle the doctors are still confused by this cancer. In fact they haven't seen any other like it.
Last spring Caity relapsed again. Her doctors felt that the surgeries themselves were causing the cancer to become more active so a different route was chosen. Since her cancer started in her pancreas she is now being treated with a chemo drug used to fight pancreatic cancer. This means more and more weekly trips to Children's Hospital in Seattle for treatment. Recently after yet another scan, they finally got some good news that the cancer had not grown at all. So for now, she and her family are staying the course and continuing on her present protocol.
I had a wonderful visit with Caity and her mom Misti at Children's last week where they had come in for this new round of chemo. I actually first met Caity two years ago at Camp Goodtimes in June. Later that summer she also attended a Campfire camp, Camp Sealth and I was the captain of the boat that day that took her to camp. Even though photography has been my full time job for over twenty years now, I still drive the Argosy boats a couple of dozen times every summer, mainly driving the Goodtime II and taking kids to Sealth. I've been doing that for 30 years now, and I hope to do it for about 30 more.
Last summer when Camp Goodtimes was ending, Caity walked up to me and said, "Mooselips..." (if you didn't already know, that's been my goofy camp name forever) "...would you come visit me at Chldren's Hospital sometime this winter?...Cause my cancer came back?" How can you possibly answer that question? "No, I'd rather sit around and play video games." or, "Gosh no, but thanks for asking. I happen to be quite self-centered so it would never occur to me to go visit a friend in need." I usually try to come up with something funny to say, but with that question the only thing that came out was, "I'd love to." And I responded that way not out of any guilt whatsoever. I was just so honored that she wanted me to visit and I was looking forward to the time when I could do just that and hopefully cheer her up a little.
I tried to keep up on her progress after camp but didn't hear of any Children's visits until after they had happened. I did have a very nice visit with her and her family on the Camp Goodtimes Holiday cruise last December (Argosy Cruises has donated the boat for 20 years in a row now). Recently, through the wonders of Facebook, I knew Caity was going to be admitted to Children's to, as her mom's status indicated, "Face the Monster". I was in Seattle with my son Miles and we tried to call them at Children's first but didn't have any luck so we just showed up. While checking in on the oncology floor, Misti actually walked up to me and said with surprise, "Hey Mooselips. I'm Misti, Caity's mom from camp." I said, "I know, we're here to see you both!" She gave me a confused smile and asked how I knew they were going to be there, to which I replied, "Facebook." She chuckled and added, " I LOVE Facebook". She then immediately took us back to where Caity was sharing a room with two other patients, the room being divided into three separate areas with curtains. Misti said to Caity, "Honey, you have visitors!" Caity said in a very confused, bordering on upset tone, "Who?!?!" I then started singing "Little Red Wagon" as I walked around the curtain with Miles. Seeing her face light up and to hear her say, "Mooselips!!" just made my day. She had seen Miles before a number of times at camp. A few minutes into our visit she looked over at Miles and said, "You look like Joe Jonas." Referring to one of the Jonas Brothers teeny bopper band (sorry Caity, that's the best description I can come up with for them!).
Misti had asked me before if I could take some photos of Caity sometime and even though the hospital wasn't the greatest setting, it does represent their reality at the moment. I kept thinking to myself how amazing she looked AND how great her attitude was. Considering what she has been facing and what lays before her, she still can break into that enormous smile so quickly. I know that besides all the physical abuse that cancer has unleashed upon her, that coping emotionally is another thing entirely. I am confident that with her spunkiness and her ability to start cracking up in an instant, even after a dumb Mooselips joke, that she has the ability to keep facing this with strength very uncommon for a 13 year old. I think it definitely helps to have something fun to look forward to, like Camp Goodtimes, or more immediately, an awesome birthday party. So today, Caity is having a huge "Happy 13th" party thrown for her that will feature all kinds of craziness, including belly dancing! When she told me that, I told her that WHENEVER I dance, it turns in to belly dancing by accident (the new workout schedule should make that happen less frequently though I hope).
Caity you are a remarkable young lady with a huge heart. You truly have a lot to teach the world and on this your big day, turning 13, I wish for you crazy-belly dancing-hanging out with friends-laughing so hard till milk squirts out your nose-present opening-junk food eating (but be careful about that!)- birthday wonderfullness. My sincer wish for you is to have at least 90 more just like it.